Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Diminishing Of The Ad Agency Creative Department

Much has been written about the changes in advertising over the past couple of decades.  Account management is on the wane; planning is no longer dominant.  But little has been written about the diminution of creativity and executions. Once upon a time in American advertising, the creative department reigned supreme. This was true even at agencies that were account or strategic oriented. Even at those agencies, with few exceptions, if there were an argument over execution (not strategy), the creative department would win. Many of my readers would agree that now there is a dearth of exciting, innovative executions, especially on television.  Here is why.

Over the past 30 years a conversion of events has caused the influence of creativity to diminish.

The advent of planning has affected creativity more than the creative departments realize.  Corporate procurement has interfered with implementations, furthering the diminishing of executions.  Weakened account management has effected strategy and given rise to the consultants, who, for the most part, don’t understand advertising or production.  And the holding company emphasis on profits, profits and profits has caused the work to suffer since less time is spent by senior people “tweaking” the work.

While the intent of planning was excellent – originally to be the voice of the consumer and the provider of new insights in order to allow more effective communications – planning has devolved into management of focus groups and supervision of outside research. Many categories and brands have been focus grouped to death.  It is very hard to develop new insights into these.  How many times can an agency develop new insights into detergent or pet foods or computers - categories which have been planned to death over the past quarter of a century.  As a result, my observation is that planning is on the wane at most agencies and, in fact, there is actually less and less classical communications research.  Sadly, neither planning nor research is really being replaced at ad agencies.  In fact, clients have taken over a lot of this role, which is kind of like the inmates running the asylum. 

Much has been written about procurement departments and corporate management demanding that less money be spent on marketing and production.  WPP made an attempt to establish Hogarth as purely a production agency, taking the supervision and execution of all aspects of broadcast and, to some extent, print production away from the creative department which developed the work.  This, was an effort to save clients’ money. Interpublic followed suit. My observation is that these attempts have not achieved their intended goal; rather they have diminished the quality of the message because the very people who created the work are not totally involved with producing it.  The truth is that the vision to execute should remain with the people who created the concept.  One of the complaints by both agencies and clients is that by cutting costs on some production, much has been lost in the translation.

There is no question that more than occasionally, agencies abused the trust clients paid them by overspending on executions, particularly production of television commercials.  I can remember one agency creative director arguing with his client about hiring one of the most expensive star commercial directors at an outrageous rate of $20,000 per day, but with a three day prep minimum and two shoot days; ridiculously, the commercial was merely thirty seconds of a talking head, shot from the waist up.  The total cost for that commercial was to be about $400k.  The account people complained but the creative department insisted.  Eventually, the client rejected the bid and got its own bids for less than a third of that. I am sure, because of the nature of the commercial, it was not much worse than if the star director had done it.

Over time, with incidents like this, clients lost faith in their agencies ability to look out for their best interests.  

Client fees put a damper on big production costs by putting constraints on the amount they would pay for execution and implementation, regardless of the concept or the need for a big production.  As a result, much of the show business has been taken out of advertising.  Today, much of the norm is stock footage and stock music.

This may be good for the corporate bottom line but is not good for the executions or the consumer.  

Finally, the star system is gone. This may be the biggest reason that there has been a diminishing of the creative department. Once upon a time there were creative people whose names everyone in the business knew.  They created award winning work.  Other creative people would, if necessary, take salary cuts to work for them.  These were not only creative directors, but included group heads and others.  Most of the major agencies had one or two (or more) of these well-known people.  Today, there are very few "name" creative people.  The star system has been destroyed by the holding companies, for reasons that make no sense. 

All of these things have contributed to the diminished influence of the creative department. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Is Sharing Salary Information Fair and Productive? Is It Anyone's Business?

I saw an interesting article online about the pros and cons of sharing salary information.  It generated a lot of thought and is worth a discussion.  Off the bat, I have to say that this post has nothing to do with equal pay or with the New York City law which now prevents asking for salary history. 

One observation I have made while recruiting is that people quite freely share their salary information with their friends and associates.  One result of sharing this information is that by telling your friends, it may actually help prevent salary discrimination.  Two people with the same titles and responsibility as well as the same amount of time in grade, so to speak, should be paid the same.  Right?   Well, on the surface it would seem so.

Many businesses are complicated; seemingly similar clients may actually be quite different from one another.  Advertising is a difficult business.  All jobs are not equal, even if their titles are. Should an account person working on Coca-Cola make the same as an account person on Kellogg’s or IBM if they were all at the same agency?  On the surface the answer would be yes, but one would have to thoroughly understand the dynamics of each business in order to answer the question fairly.

All these accounts are large, fast moving, are heavily advertised and have many executions. This would seem to make them equal.  But wait.  Suppose one account was in production almost every week and the account person has to travel to supervise the production – this may mean five or six workdays a week, most away from home for overnight.  Suppose another one of these accounts were highly planning or research oriented and required the account person to constantly attend focus groups all over the country and have intense knowledge of planning and research.  Perhaps the managers on these accounts have very different personalities, ranging from lovely and easy to difficult and abusive; ditto for the clients.  And perhaps, because of the locations of those clients (and agencies), there is frequent travel to and from the client, often over night or, if on the same day, very long commutes from early in the morning until well after dinner.  And finally, the agency/client culture is such that on one (or all) of these businesses, work requirements are 9AM to 10PM daily on one account, but only 9AM to 6PM on another.  Finally, suppose the clients were quite different and required the people servicing them to have different skills – from education to technical knowledge.  Some clients are abusive, some are easy.

There are so many variations that it would be impossible to pay the people working on these businesses the same.  Several years ago I wrote about how MVBMS (now HAVAS) paid people more to work on MCI than on other accounts.  MCI burned through people because it was so impossibly busy.

It is the responsibility of the company to insure equal pay for equal work.  And much of the work at ad agencies is unequal because of the things I have mentioned.

So, among employees, sharing salary information might be counter-productive and create unfair pressure on the employer. Worse still would be the sharing of bonus information at the end of the year.  All work and all workers are not created equal.  Some workers are superstars and deserve to be paid more.  Some may have it much easier than others and might be paid somewhat less. Bonus money is totally at the discretion of the employer.

This has nothing to do with equal gender pay.

None of this is to say that women should be paid less than men, especially if their jobs are equal.  But that is a different discussion.  Assuming that all aspects of the job are the same, then people should be paid the same.  But that information should not be shared.

Besides, there is one inevitable truth when it comes to salaries.  Most people exaggerate their pay to their friends (and potential employers).  Over the years, I have met candidates who tell me how much less (or more) they are making than their friends at work.  In so many of those cases, I know both people and know what they are telling me is just not so. 

When I was brought up, my parents told me that it was impolite to discuss salary, since it was nobody’s business.

My point of view is that sharing salary could be counter-productive and the expectations it sets up may be unrealistic.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Why You Must Keep Your Résumé Up To Date

Everyone who reads this knows it is true; but few people will heed the advice.  Even people who are happy in their job or have been in it for a long time need to keep their résumés up-to-date.  Many people wrongly consider keeping a fresh CV as either unnecessary or disloyal.  They also believe that they can create a new one from scratch in a very short time, so keeping their résumé up to date is unnecessary and very low on their list o priorities.

Nevertheless, it is smart personal business to keep your résumé up-to-date.  

I have written many times that when someone gets promoted, gets a raise or gets a new experience, like a rotation, their recruiters should be told about it and their résumé should be updated.  That promotion or new capability may qualify and make someone a candidate for a great job that they may have wanted and not have been qualified for prior to the change.  People who can help your career need to know about it.
I cannot tell you how many times  I reconnect with a candidate and I learn about new experiences which they have recently had.  Those skills might have made them right for an assignment I have or recently had (and, had I known, I could have called them).  This is especially true of people who have a wish list.  Over the years I have had many candidates tell me what their ideal job would be, but at the time they told me, they did not have the qualifications.  Automotive, cosmetics, computers and not-for-profit are good examples.  And someone who, for example, wants to work on cars and gets rotated on to automotive after market - tires, for instance -  may suddenly be more qualified to work on a car account.

It takes a while to create a new résumé, but updating an old one is lots easier and faster.  One never knows when an opportunity will be presented which requires an immediate response and you need to be ready for that response.  It is just smart business.  

Many candidates have told me that I should look on LinkedIn to see their background.  In most cases that listing is insufficient and almost never provides the complete information which should be contained on a resume or CV.

LinkedIn is designed to contain only top-line information and rarely has enough detail to make it fully useful to companies or recruiters.  On LinkedIn, most people do not list the details of their current or past employment.  Rather, people put down the companies or categories they have worked on but fail to list the brands they have been exposed to.  It can make a big difference if one is working on Tide or on Pantene or Bounty, so saying P&G or Proctor is not enough.  Many people only list their title online which is no help to recruiters or companies who may be interested in their background.  To this day, an account director at one agency is the same as a management rep or a group head at another agency, but responsibilities, if not listed, can be unclear.  And, of course, there are almost no descriptions of accomplishments.  All of those things belong on a résumé.

In one of my first Ad Age columns, I wrote that a person who reads your résumé wants to know only four things:  Where did you work, how long were you there, what did you work on or do, and whether you got promoted.   Remember, the average person who sees your résumé will only spend six seconds on it.

One never knows when a friend, a recruiter or a person from another company will call you and ask for a résumé, “right away”.  Making them wait may impede the opportunity; it could communicate that you are not that interested.  In addition, we all know that companies are not loyal to their employees, so often, people who have unexpectedly been terminated, have to spend days or even weeks making a new résumé.  If they had an old one updated, it would speed up the process immensely, even while crafting a brand new bio.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Why The Internet Can Never Replace Recruiters

There is no question that to save companies money, many have eschewed their recruiting relationships in favor of electronic recruiting.  It is a trend which will last for a while, but will ultimately decline.

Nothing can replace the personal relationships companies and executives have with their recruiters. Recruiters who know companies intimately and know the people and issues within the company cannot be replaced by a job board.  Personal knowledge makes recruiting faster and far more efficient.

I have yet to see an electronic recruiting board that deals accurately with real job specs.  Many job specifications actually should not be published publically no matter what level the job (these kinds of things may include the reason the job is open, the problems with other employees, clients or suppliers, as well as the business situation).  Nor have I seen a job board which can deal accurately with candidates’ accomplishments, strengths (and weaknesses) that are totally relevant to the listed job; these are things which can only be determined through a thorough interview – whether in person, via phone, Skype or Face Time.  The essential elements of personality can only be determined through interface and observation. Impersonal job boards can only select applicants based on what the applicants have submitted to them, which rarely approaches the essence of a job.  

Nothing can replace eye contact when it comes to hiring.  And while 99% of people hired will eventually be interviewed in person, those interviews come after candidates have been identified and preliminary interviews have taken place, mostly on the telephone.  The trick is to identify the right candidates in the first place so that the people being interviewed and going through the process are all “right” candidates.

A president of a major company recently told me that his turnover, particularly among juniors, was very high and he couldn’t understand why.  I told him it was largely due to the quality of the candidates his company received through the internet.  They are not using recruiters.  There is anecdotal evidence, although I have not seen a study, that people placed by a recruiter have greater retention in their jobs than those recruited online.

I firmly believe that the best candidates do not use the internet.  Every recruiter has a stockpile of successful executives who will only deal with trusted recruiters; these executives, even when actively looking for new employment, simply do not use public job boards.

The price that companies are paying for their penny wise strategy is very high.  At some point, the CFO’s who control acquisition costs by forbidding the use of outside recruiters (except in extreme cases), will realize that their savings are actually not savings at all.  The cost of excess turnover is extremely high – lost time, time spent recruiting and screening, client dissatisfaction, retraining – and cannot be compensated for by continuously making the same mistake.

Personal relationships count for a lot.  There are many companies that every recruiter works with where those companies trust and rely on their recruiters to send them only appropriate candidates. Those recruiters and companies understand each other – the culture, the work environment, and the kinds of people who succeed.  The internet cannot make up for that kind of personal knowledge relationship.

The efficiency that comes with that knowledge cannot be duplicated by impersonal web-recruiting. 
That is why this trend will not continue.  Many “job boards” have already disappeared or diminished and more will go away soon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Adventures in Recruiting: Five Final Interviews That Ended In Disaster

I learned very early in my recruiting career that final interviews, which are often called a “courtesy”, can go awry.  Final interviews are generally saved for the most senior person in the company or the person who has the hiring authority to sign off on the hiring of a candidate.  But they should never be taken for granted as there are often surprises.  I thought I would share five stories – some quite funny, some really strange – of how they can end in disaster. 

All these stories were with candidates I represented.

1      1)    A young man was interviewing for an account supervisor spot at the old Bloom agency (Bob Bloom’s shop was bought by Publicis and was, for a while, called Publicis Bloom. Bob Bloom was a notoriously tough interviewer.  The account supervisor, who was interviewing on a difficult, fast-moving retail account, was told by the people who wanted him hired to just be himself and to be honest with Mr. Bloom and that he was a shoo-in for the job.  I think he took the interview for granted.  During the interview, the account supervisor was asked by Mr. Bloom, “If I called your current supervisor – which I wouldn’t – what would he say about you?  Without missing a beat and, apparently without thinking, the account supervisor said, “He would tell you I had a messy desk and was disorganized.”  End of that candidacy.

2      2)    An account supervisor was interviewing for a management supervisor spot at a small but well known creative shop. He had interviewed with everyone except the president of the agency.  The president of that agency did not like the large but well-respected agencies where the candidate had previously worked; nevertheless, the candidate was perfect for the job and had been told so.  The people who wanted to hire him had warned the candidate that the subject of big agency creativity might come up. At the very beginning of the interview, the president looked at the candidate and said, “When are you going to work at an agency that does good work?”  The account supervisor gave a great response, “When you hire me, sir.”  The president of the agency thought that the response was arrogant and brash (so he told people afterwards) and immediately dismissed the candidate saying, “At your level, I am not going to teach you about good work.”  He simply told the applicant to leave.  The interview did not last five minutes.  It left the agency’s staff astounded.

3      3)    An EVP was interviewing at a major agency to run account management.  He had already met and had been interviewed by almost every department head; they all liked him.  He was now meeting with the chairman.  Within a minute, it became clear that the chairman had not prepared for the meeting, had not looked at the candidate’s résumé and hadn’t a clue why he was seeing this person; I have always wondered if he even knew they were looking for a senior person.  Anyway, his first question astounded the prospect.  The chairman asked him, “Why are you here?”  The account person became unhinged. He opened his brief case, which contained a sandwich which had been purchased just prior to the meeting.  The account person looked at the chairman (a well-known person to everyone in the business) and said, “I came to deliver your lunch.”  He dropped the sandwich bag on the chairman’s desk and walked out.

4      4)    A senior group head was being interviewed for a job at a well-known creative shop.  He had already met two of the three founders of the agency.  This was his final interview and it was with the general manger, who had a reputation for giving strange interviews.  The applicant entered the office and found the general manager standing by the window looking out, with his back to the door. The candidate was not sure how to handle it when the GM started asking him questions without turning around. In fact, the interviewee had not been asked to sit down, so he was just standing by the doorway.  After about ten minutes of questioning like this, the prospect said to the general manager, “Sir, is there something out there that I should be seeing and sharing with you?”  The general manager, turned around and said, “Clients do strange things.  I wanted to see how you would act.  It took you ten minutes to deal with me.  That is too long so we are not going to hire you.”

5      5)    An EVP and head of account management at a major, large creative agency was interviewing to be hired by the chairman and owner of a small agency to be his successor.  The chairman was well into his seventies.  The EVP worked for a larger, multi-national agency which probably billed about $530mm domestically; the smaller agency had 15 employees and billed about $20mm.  They had been meeting for months, including several dinners and a lot of interaction with lawyers over the contract, which was finally drawn up and agreed to.  The EVP went to the small agency to sign the contract and to be introduced to the staff.  The staff knew about the new person and arrived early to have coffee with him. There was an air of excitement.  Just before the contract signing, the chairman asked the EVP which of the accounts at his current agency he would be bringing with him.  It was a subject never discussed.  The EVP said that his current contract precluded him soliciting existing business. The chairman, essentially, threw him out saying, “Why else would I hire you?”  That was the end of that.  The chairman was never able to hire anyone during the next three or four years he was alive.


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